Meet The Collector: Patrick Sun On His Acquisition Strategy And Fostering Better LGBTQ+ Representation In Art

Patrick on stage at the opening party of SPECTROSYNTHESIS I, 8 Sep 2017. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation
Patrick Sun, collector and founder of Sunpride Foundation. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.
Patrick on stage at the opening party of SPECTROSYNTHESIS I, 8 September 2017. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation
Patrick Sun at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II, which was held in 2019 at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.
Patrick Sun at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II, which was held in 2019 at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.
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He is now known among the art community for his large-scale exhibitions promoting LGBTQ+ art in Asia, but real estate developer Patrick Sun began his path collecting art with an interest in ink and a vague attraction to themes of forbidden love. He shares some of his early artistic interests, as well as his broader goals as the founder of Sunpride Foundation.

TEXT: Christina Ko
IMAGES: Courtesy of Sunpride Foundation

 

In 2014—a time when LGBT had just the four letters—an art collector by the name of Patrick Sun launched a non-profit organisation called Sunpride Foundation, which is specifically dedicated to promoting art created by LGBTQ+ artists. It was a natural evolution and merging of two of his interests: he had long participated in gay rights and pride activism; and since inaugurating his first property development project on Hollywood Road—Kinwick Centre—where most of the city’s reputable art and antique galleries occupied space, Sun had held an avid interest in art and collecting.

 

Patrick Sun, collector and founder of Sunpride Foundation. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.

 

In the ensuing years, Sun has mounted two mammoth exhibitions, titled SPECTROSYNTHESIS I and II, taking place in Taipei and Bangkok in 2017 and 2019 respectively. It is not a coincidence that these large-scale shows, bringing together some 100 works each, have taken place in cities that were the first in Asia to offer same-sex partnerships some form of legal recognition. Sun’s collection is as much about art appreciation as it is about a soft-power reshaping of queer acceptance in Asian countries, and is as such an incredibly significant contribution to the community fabric. That the artist roster and work can be appreciated sans political agenda is not just the icing on the cake – it’s a statement that queer artists are an indelible and important part of the greater art economy.

In this thoughtful interview, Sun shares some of his early experiences as a collector, and the way in which art for activism influences the decisions he makes when it comes to acquisitions.

 

What does it mean to you, to be a “collector”?

To me, a “collector” not only means appreciating, preserving and sharing art, it also means having a voice. I collect for a reason—to raise awareness and respect for the LGBTQ+ community through art. Becoming a collector has created a new platform for me to advocate this mission.

Tell us the first piece of art that touched you.

A painting by Christopher Cheung, a Hong Kong artist, commissioned for a famous Cantonese opera singer in memory of her partner. The singers, both female, were the best-known couple in theatre and after one of them passed away, the other refused to perform anymore. The painting shows one of their iconic movie scenes playing on TV in a vacant room, but with a telephone unplugged as if someone had left in a hurry. The love and longing for a lifetime partner shown in this painting moved me immensely.  Subsequently I commissioned the artist to do a work in memory of Leslie Cheung, another LGBTQ+ icon in Hong Kong.

What was your first acquisition?

My first acquisition was a traditional Chinese painting which is a stark contrast to my present focus on LGBTQ+ art. However, there was one work that perhaps became a harbinger of my present interest: a painting by Qian Hui’an depicting two boys hiding to eat a watermelon. The subject of forbidden love is a recurring theme in Sunpride Foundation’s collection.

What is your strategy, so to speak, when it comes to collecting? To which periods/regions/styles are you particularly drawn, and why do those in particular speak to you?

My strategy is to focus more on the exhibitions that we organise, and less on my personal likings. When I see a piece, I always ask myself first: “How would this work in our exhibitions?”, and then it’ll become easier to make decisions. I also seek advice from my art advisor and colleagues so that I can see the piece through their professionally trained eyes.

 

Patrick on stage at the opening party of SPECTROSYNTHESIS I, 8 September 2017. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation

 

Patrick Sun at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II, which was held in 2019 at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.

 

One of the beautiful aspects of becoming a collector is access to artist studios and artists and an opportunity for first-person understanding of the work. Can you share an anecdote relating to the unique experiences you’ve shared with an artist as a collector?

I remember my first visit to Xiyadie’s home very vividly. He lived in a film studio in Beijing where he worked for room and board. His paper-cuttings were folded and stored in every nook and cranny in the small bedsit he slept in. Every work Xiyadie unfolded had a florid story to tell, some of them made me laugh and some moved me to tears. It was after hearing these personal stories that I convinced him to do these works in a larger format, which worked extremely well in our subsequent exhibitions at MoCA Taipei and Bangkok Art & Culture Centre.

Tell us about your impulse to own and collect. What are the factors that you weigh up and what considerations come into play when you’re deciding whether to add a piece to your collection versus admiring it in the public domain?

My first question is always how it would work in our exhibitions. One example is a painting I bought at Sotheby’s: Young Girl (1960) by Shiy De-Jinn. Since I needed something to anchor our upcoming show in Taipei, I bought this rare work by an old master who was openly gay—very unusual in that era—at a record price.

International boards and committees are often made up of varied colourful individuals within the art world. Can you share how your voice as a collector contrasts and complements other voices (e.g., museum directors, curators, artists themselves)?

I feel extremely honoured to be invited to join both Tate’s Asia-Pacific Acquisitions Committee, and Guggenheim’s Asian Art Circle. I have learned so much from these museum professionals and all the members in the groups. Given my collection has such a distinctive focus, I believe I had something different to contribute to the groups. My collection focuses on artworks that have an LGBTQ+ story to tell. My team and I would travel around the world looking for artworks we can include in our exhibitions. Our experience in researching the creative history of the LGBTQ+ community, especially in Asia, has given me a unique position in both groups.

 

Patrick Sun at SPECTROSYNTHESIS II, which was held in 2019 at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Image courtesy of Sunpride Foundation.

 

How has COVID-19 and its myriads of effects changed the way you collect?

I used to mostly buy at physical art fairs and gallery exhibitions. Since a lot of the fairs have been either cancelled or postponed, further compounded by international travel restrictions, like many others, we shifted to buying through online sales such as art fair OVRs, online auctions and contacting gallerists directly.

What are some of the trends that you see in the industry today?

There are several things I’ve noticed since the pandemic: the importance of digital content; the rise of video art because they often come as a digital file which is a huge advantage given the current uncertainty around physical art fairs, further compounded by the steep rise in shipping costs; the rise of online sales; fewer in-person events, and with a smaller number of participants for obvious reasons.

As a collector, what do you see as your role or mission within the industry?

I think my role within the industry as a collector is in line with our Foundation’s mission, which is to foster a healthier and more equitable world for the LGBTQ+ community, and to encourage the younger generation through collecting and exhibiting artworks which speak to and share the LGBTQ+ experience with society.

The art world is often accused of being purposefully old school, oblique, and lacking in transparency. As a collector, do you find this to be true? Why or why not?

No, I don’t. On the contrary, I find the art world quite the opposite of being old-school. Especially now, in the midst of the pandemic, the art world is constantly finding new ways to do business—OVR was almost unheard of before, and within a year’s time, it has become such an important part of the business; art fairs and galleries are collaborating with each other; exhibitions are all going online, as well as sales… And I think that this digitalisation phenomenon is making information more transparent than ever.

If a curator were to stumble upon your collection in 50 years’ time, what do you hope to be the legacy you leave in the art world?

I hope the curator would think back to the intention of staging an LGBTQ+ focused art collection and consider the hard-won fight for equal rights. That would mean that I have achieved what I had set out to do.

 

 

 
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